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April 8, 2003

Laura Miller, profiling Jon Stewart in Salon:
Political humor used to belong to the left, but that all changed in the 1990s, when the priggishness of political correctitude injected new vitality into a segment of the population that had been shut out of comedy’s pantheon: assholes. Suddenly, a guy could flaunt his most petty and vindictive prejudices and still get to feel like a champion of truth and freedom.
[02:17 PM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Laura Miller,:

Thomas Nephew ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 04:09 PM:

The Blog Community At Work Again

I sat through a Steven Brill popup ad to bring this news to those of us without cable or Salon subscriptions: it turns out, of course, that Laura Miller isn't profiling Jon Stewart in that quote.

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 08:00 PM:

Right. The actual profile is full of gems like:

Stewart: I'm perplexed. Is your position that there's no place for negative words or even thoughts in the media?
Colbert: Not at all, Jon. Doubts can happen to everyone, including me, but as a responsible journalist, I've taken my doubts, fears, moral compass, conscience and all-pervading skepticism about the very nature of this war and simply placed them in this empty Altoids box. [Produces box.] That's where they'll stay, safe and sound, until Iraq is liberated.
Stewart: Isn't it the media's responsibility in wartime ...
Colbert: That's my point, Jon! The media has no responsibility in wartime. The government's on top of it. The media can sit this one out.
And the point is that we need more of that, and less of those petty and vindictive assholes.

Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 08:11 PM:

You really need sound effects to get the full impact of the joke: Jon Stewart opens the box (FX: Prolonged, terrified screaming.)

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 09:43 PM:

Howard Stern is more complex than many of his critics give him credit for. For one thing, he's got a deep self-disparaging vein in his humor. He's no self-satisfied Bill Maher, his favorite running joke is (or was -- I haven't listened to him in years) to make fun of his own lack of sexual prowess and his tiny penis size.

Ultimately, I stopped listening to him partially because he IS offensive. I can deal with jokes about lesbians, sex, having strippers and porn stars on the show. I can even put up with some of his ethnic humor, which often crosses the line into bigotry. But making fun of the disabled and mentally ill: just ain't funny.

But that's not real reason I stopped listening to Stern. The real reason: He got boring. Same jokes, over and over.

Similarly, I never liked Maher because I never found him either entertaining or funny. His smugness didn't help.

I think being self-deprecating is essential to humor.

Buzz ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 11:37 PM:

David, key point! Patrick, I think your quote is taken out of context. That detail was provided to contrast Stewart's style, which is hardly full of the same angst as Miller or Maher. Centrist, yes, but not pissed off.

Dustin ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 12:06 AM:

Do you really think Stewart is centrist, or just a guy doing the best he can on a network owned by Vivendi? I sometimes feel as if his heart's just not in it when he takes on the Left (except for the odd crack about protesters, which he seems to really enjoy) but really enjoy relaying the absurdities of the Right. For instance I remember when he had Coulter on, he seemed literally unable to take her seriously, but was a lot more relaxed and sympathetic when he had Alterman on.

Dustin ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 12:08 AM:

Correction: Comedy Central is ownded by Viacom, not Vivendi. Who can keep them straight these days?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 08:08 AM:

Just to be clear, I

(1) didn't think this paragraph was about Jon Stewart or his audience, and

(2) have no opinion about Jon Stewart or Bill Maher, having never seen either of their shows.

Although Laura Miller's piece does make me want to check out Stewart's show.

Yes, I'm chronically unclued about current TV.

mark ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 08:25 AM:

Uh, Dustin, Alterman is not quite the evil, extremist piece of shit that Coulter is.

(Which is not to say your general idea is wrong -- but comparing his attitude to the so-far-right-it's-crossed-the-line-into-bigotry and the probably-mainstream-left doesn't prove much)

Tim Kyger ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 11:33 AM:

Jon Stewart and the show that he's on (which is *not* the Jon Stewart show by any means)is, to me, a scream. TimBob says check it out. As always, YMMV.

--- Tim Kyger (Fort Worth, Texas; a-yup)

Ray Ciscon ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 11:40 AM:

Mark, I wouldn't say that Ann Coulter is 'evil', I'd just say that her common-sense and tact/good manners circuits are seriously malfunctioning! She's much easier to handle in the written medium, the longer form the better. During live appearances she tends to wind herself up into an almost tasmanian devil whirlwind which can be quite amusing. Many times she was the only entertaining part of Bill Maher's old show.

As for Eric Alterman, he's not evil either, he's just insufferably smug, obnoxious, and unfortunately not-at-all amusing. Take a look at his so-called debate with Brent Bozell of www.mrc.org on National Review Online for a good example.

Dustin ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 12:50 PM:

Re: "Alterman is not quite the evil, extremist piece of shit that Coulter is"

Well, that's true enough. I compared them because both were plugging their books about the alleged liberal bias in American media. And a 6-minute interview is not really long enough for Coulter to get really wound up, although she did manage, IIRC, to mention Clinton's penis. One interesting thing about Stewart's interviews is he almost never lets guests talk much about the project they are plugging, which really got under Coulter's skin, but before she could really get going it was "Thank you for coming by, we'll be right back."

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 12:56 PM:

Jon Stewart is, like the early David Letterman, not really much of an interviewer. If a guest isn't interesting to him, it shows.

His best interview segments are when he has another comedian on, and they just sit there and try to crack each other up. It's like being at a bar with two really funny friends and watching THEM try to crack each other up.

He's also pretty good when he has gorgeous actress, sexually adventurous actresses on, and then he just makes fun of himself.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 01:48 PM:

Mark, I wouldn't say that Ann Coulter is 'evil', I'd just say that her common-sense and tact/good manners circuits are seriously malfunctioning!

I'd say she's evil. I have a tendency to think that about people who say that America has to "physically intimidate" people like me, "so they know that they can be killed too."

But that's just me.

And no, I don't give a fuck if she "got worked up," or "didn't mean it." No sale.

Tuxedo Slack ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 01:55 PM:

Xopher skrev, re Ann the Man:

I'd say she's evil. I have a tendency to think that about people who say that America has to "physically intimidate" people like me, "so they know that they can be killed too."

Because otherwise, "they" (all of them, without exception) "will turn out to be outright traitors."

And who say that their "only regret about Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times building." The fact that those words are not thrown in (what we must, for lack of a better word, call) her face every time she opens her mouth is prima facie proof, to anyone with a functioning cerebrum, that whatever liberal media we may have in this country can be most charitably described as comatose.

skippy ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 02:46 PM:

re: bill maher,

i grew incredibly tired of maher's self-satisfied condenscending ego on the old pi show.

that being said, however, i am really enjoying his new "real with with bm" on hbo. somehow his mix of guests are not quite as obnoxious as the latter days of pi, and even his right wing guests are looser, less pendantic and more for fun.

like the daily show with jn, this new bill maher hour on hbo is becoming one of the last places a liberal can watch current events tv and not throw up. there seems to be a definate leaning to the left on this show. and mahere is much left of an insufferable bore.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 03:51 PM:

The Daily Show is one of the things I miss most about not having cable in the new apartment. Now that I have broadband I can catch the bits they put online, but it's not the same.

Jukka Halme ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 05:24 PM:

Daily Show is also very much missed way over here in Finland. Moving to Princeton, NJ in 2001 and subsequently living a year there, Jon Stewart and his buddies almost singlehandedly managed to restore my faith in Americans of having a sense of humour. Then the many wonderful people I had connections with during that year made it even more abundantly clear that the image I've have had was as wrong as it was right. As it is the case, we came in all sizes and with all kinds of view-points.

Somewhat more hesitantly I have to admit, but I'm also missing Fox News and their "Fair and Balanced" reporting. Not to mention Bill O'Reilly ans Sean Cannity. Maybe "missing" is wrong _wrong_ word, but in order to know your enemy, you have to endure some pretty strange stuff. Even Bill "youmayhaveapointbutyourstillwrongverywrongandI'mright,butI'mgivingyouthelastword" O'Reilly. I did find Fox News embarrassingly addictive. "Embarrassing" being the operative word here.

Thanks for the link Avram, I have spent an entertaining evening watching their clips.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 09:04 PM:

Ann Coulter is a high-paid entertainer whose schtick basically consists of telling lies and urging people to do wicked and hurtful things. If that's not evil, nothing is. The idea that "her common-sense and tact/good manners circuits are seriously malfunctioning" is a ridiculous attempt to defend the indefensible. Her circuits are working exactly as intended: they're making her a pile of money and getting her a bunch of power and clout.

There really isn't an equivalent figure on the left, despite lame attempts to cast relatively moderate figures like Eric Alterman or Michael Moore in the role. Indeed, we haven't had a mass-media figure on the left with anything like that sort of murderousness since Eldridge Cleaver was extolling rape as an instrument of racial equity. Back then, of course, conservatives were all over liberals for "moral relativism" in tolerating that kind of talk. But when it comes to calling for the killing of liberals, hey, you gotta understand the context, it's a kind of joke, don't you get that it's all kind of relative.

No it's not. It's contemptible, and so are those who defend it. May shame and horror cleave your lying tongue to the roof of your mouth.

Julian DuBuque ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 09:30 PM:

Patrick, I think that your concern over the "evil" Ann Coulter is overstated. Despite your feelings about her, her influence on the general public is miniscule. She is obviously not to be taken seriously, and even those on the right consider her to be just shy of Pat Buchanan whacky, as demonstrated by her dismissal from National Review after her insane post-9/11 piece.

Do you consider her influence worse than that of Nicholas De Genova, a professor at Columbia who has stated, "The only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military. I personally would like to see a million Mogadishus."?

Professor De Genova is in a position to influence the critical thought of thousands of young minds who take him seriously because of his place on the staff of a major university.

I don't claim to defend Coulter, but I don't think she's evil, she's just an idiot. As for Professor De Genova, he's as much an idiot as Coulter.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 10:00 PM:

You have got to be kidding. Coulter is constantly on television, and her books are New York Times bestsellers. She has a substantial national audience.

Nicholas De Genova is and will forever be notorious for one stupid speech. When he's a bestselling author and TV talking head, you can make that comparison. Of course, that won't happen. As you know perfectly well.

Incidentally, as other commenters have pointed out, Coulter was dimissed from National Review Online for insubordination toward management, not because she called for the murder of her political opponents.

I don't want to impugn the honesty of a stranger, but your argument is so wildly insupportible on the facts that it's hard to avoid the conclusion that you're just saying shit.

LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 10:10 PM:

Ann Coulter has no influence on the general public, therefore she is not evil. ??

If I cast slurs on people, lie, and advocate killing those who disagree with my cherished beliefs, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with my behavior; I'm only evil as long as a large segment of the population buys into my bullshit. Hmmm.


Scott B ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 10:57 PM:

Ann Coulter is nuts, however, she is in the media constantly. That fact, in itself, carries the weight of authority for a lot of people. This is lamentable.

One cannot equate Coulter's ideas with common liberal dogma, no more than you can say Jimmy the crazy street hobo's hallucinations are on par with Alan Greenspan's thoughts on the economy. One is pure wanton fantasy and the other actually has some rational basis in a common reality.

In my view, the core of liberal thought is altruistic. It may screw up the economy and raise tax burdens, but there are clearly good intentions at work. In Coulter's body of thought (if you can call it that), she cannot put forward a single cogent idea. There is no central core belief, other than a relentless, centerless criticism that eats at the edges of a humanistic view of governance. In short, she's a crank.

I'm all for asking the FCC to start enforcing the equal time doctrine, though Michael "Invisible Hand" Powell would never in a million years enforce any such thing. Nonetheless, I'm taking suggestions for liberal media darlings.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 11:05 PM:

Hey! Over here! I'll take the gig!

Oh, okay, I'm overcommitted. Very well then, Avedon Carol, Atrios, and Kevin Drum.

Teresa would be good too, but of course she's a centrist.

Julian DuBuque ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 11:55 PM:

Patrick, you can think I'm saying shit all you want, but I still have to disagree with you on your opinion of Ann Coulter having a "substantial national audience". She's a grade C pundit/talking head who can attribute her number of TV appearances to her telegenic looks. If you think she has such a great following with the public, why doesn't she have her own TV show? If you're going to talk about a substantial national audience, you should be talking about Katie Couric, Larry King, Greta Van Susteren, Bill O'Reilly, etc.

Ann Coulter, with the exception of her good friend Bill Maher, is the 3rd guest, or token conservative on the end-of-the-show panel.

Granted, you won't hear her on Pacifica Radio or NPR, but she's not a regular on Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity either.

As for De Genova, he's a lot more than a single whacked-out anti-american speech, he's being trusted to teach students at Columbia! I don't think anyone has ever received a college grade on the rantings of Ann Coulter.


Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2003, 12:26 AM:

In actual fact, Assistant Professor De Genova isn't even teaching his classes at the moment (or wasn't as of about a week ago), but hiding out in fear for his life, so his influence is even less than Julian thinks. Students are organizing protests both for and against him.

Is Coulter hiding? Are her books rotting unbought on the bookstore shelves? Are there protests being organized about her rantings?

Julian DuBuque ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2003, 01:01 AM:

Avram, Coulter doesn't need to hide because no one is, or should be, taking her rantings seriously. She's the cotton candy of the right, cute and tasty to those of like mind, but you'll be hungry again 20 minutes later. She's a grade-C pundit! Not a single person in the world will fail university if they don't pay attention to her views.

How much face time on the media do you think Ann Coulter would get if she looked like Helen Thomas?

Coulter is a wonderful straw man for the left, but she is simply a dim red dwarf in an entire sky full of stars.

De Genova is supposed to teach people, and IMO even a kindergarten teacher is more important, and can have more influence than any pundit/talking head.

Enough for tonight, gotta walk the dog and go to bed... back to the salt mines in the morning.


Stefanie Murray ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2003, 01:55 AM:

Patrick: Did you not predict just a few days ago that De Genova was going to be the next bludgeon used to beat up on the left?

Julian: Here's something to consider: De Genova, who (as Avram pointed out) is an Assistant Professor (ie, untenured), said something stupid. But even without the hiding from death threats thing, I'm not sure that you can make any arguments on his teaching based on a couple of dumb comments. Plenty of profs have political opinions, speak them publicly, and maybe even say stupid things about politics...but teaching is different. Most academics I know bend over backward to present a broad range of perspectives and information in their classes.

So all the wrangling about Coulter's influence aside, I think you can't automatically extrapolate De Genova's class content from a couple of statements.

Jesse ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2003, 01:59 AM:

Speaking as a former and probably future student, you wildly overestimate the influence a teacher might have on an undergraduate student. I didn't go to Columbia, or any other private institution of learning, but I knew how to ignore a professor when necessary, and I suspect the same is true of most Columbia students today. Even if students were empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge (or idiocy), you'd still have to deal with the fact that most of them aren't listening anyway.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2003, 02:19 AM:

Julian, your comments on the relative importance of teachers and pundits don't match my experience. In the real world, Rush Limbaugh has far more influence than any teacher, and while college professors do have potential influence, it's on a much smaller scale.

Seriously, how many people do you think hear what De Genova says, and agree with it, in a year? Now answer the same question for Coulter.

Hal O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2003, 02:26 AM:

"Granted, you won't hear (Coulter) on Pacifica Radio or NPR..."

On an ideological basis, I'd agree about Pacifica... Although she might get quoted, as an example of her type.

But I can easily see NPR giving Coulter air time if she wanted it, in the same way they regularly broadcast Bill Kristol, and have been known to have commentaries from such liberal hotheads as Gen. Schwarzkopf's former briefing officer. (And let's not forget Schwarzkopf's pre-war opinions about the current state of the military, albeit in a different forum.)

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2003, 02:37 AM:

Patrick: Yes Avedon would be good and so would Kevn Drum. And in fact he doesn't have a job. Okay, he's a consultant (Jordin has a t-shirt that says I'm not unemployed. I'm a consultant). At any rate he's not working ffull time. As for Atrios, I dunno. He might scare the horses.


Dustin ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2003, 03:39 AM:

I think the best indicator of Ann Coulter's relevance, or lack thereof, is the shutting down of anticoulter.com. For a while, Coulter seemed to have something of a following, and (in the sense of the Salon article this thread was originally about) to resonate with some sense of frustration on the Right, but she ended up believing her own hype or something and became a parody of herself. And nobody likes a parody of a parody.

On the other hand, I think the hype over de Genova is overblown. I think that he, too, expressed some of the frustration of the Left at the moment, and though he did it poorly and, I think, without much forethought about the implications of his words, there is some truth to what he said. Americans, especially Americans of the Left, see America becoming the world's bully. And as much as we'd all like to think that we can beat the bully with our keen wit and intellectual superiority, we all know that bullies don't stop beating on people until they've been beaten on themselves. I don't think de Genova wants to see American soldiers dead any more than he wants to see Iraqi, or any other, soldiers dead, but doesn't see how this madness is going to end without the public humiliation of the bully.

Paul ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2003, 09:32 AM:

I'm sorry, but Coulter is evil, for exactly the reasons our host stated: she's made a career out of making hurtful, divisive, inflammatory comments and urging others to do and say the same. She's made a career out of appealing to worst in all of us. If that's not soul-destroying in some way, I don't know what is. I know there are many sane people on the right who don't take her seriously. But Coulter's lack of influence (which is arguable--she seems to have done quite well for herself so someone must be buying all those books) doesn't mean she's harmless; it just means that most of us are more highly evolved than she is.

De Genova on the other hand, is best known for a single reprehensible comment right now. Maybe he makes similar comments to his students and colleagues all the time. If he does, he's as bad as Coulter. But if he doesn't, then I'm willing to regard him as a frustrated man who made a vile remark and who needs to think about his own priorities. When De Genova starts getting paid to make more of those kind of remarks--in columns, books, and lectures--then I'll start to equate the two.

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2003, 01:32 PM:

Incidentally, as other commenters have pointed out, Coulter was dimissed from National Review Online for insubordination toward management, not because she called for the murder of her political opponents.

Hmm. Did she start calling for the murder of her political opponents in columns before leaving NRO?

I'm assuming you mean the crap she wrote about wishing a McVeigh type had bombed the NYTimes building, for one example? I didn't think that was NRO.

I personally think she is evil, not only for the very good moral reasons mentioned by Patrick, but because as a writer I think it's obscene to misuse such an enviable position, a regular writing gig and TV appearances, (the kind many of us starving scribes would love to have) in such fashion.

Jerry Kindall ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2003, 03:07 PM:

'm sorry, but Coulter is evil, for exactly the reasons our host stated: she's made a career out of making hurtful, divisive, inflammatory comments and urging others to do and say the same.

The trouble is, if you call that evil, what word is left for the real horrors man commits against man? "Evil" is diluted to being a rough equivalent of "very very bad."

If Coulter is evil, why are you not calling for her arrest? Surely evil deserves stern punishment. How can you be willing to let Coulter walk the streets? Is not evil worthy of being opposed wherever it rears its head? Why not call for her death or (if you are against capital punishment even in cases of obvious evil) call for her to be imprisoned for life to prevent her from committing further atrocities?

I hope you're recoiling from that notion. In fact, I'm sure you are. You recoil because you know in your gut that speech, even hateful and ugly speech, cannot truly rise to the level of evil. And labeling Coulter "evil" on the basis of things she's said is hyperbole, plain and simple. She may be deeply unpleasant, mean, nasty, a chrome-plated bitch, a shit-stirrer, and any number of other epithets. But she is (just barely perhaps) on this side of the line from "evil."

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2003, 03:23 PM:

You are implying that deeds alone are evil. But evil deeds are most often spurred first by evil words. (See Othello, the Crusades, etc)

And words spoken are deeds indeed.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2003, 04:48 PM:

Jerry: Because (as John Farrell has also pointed out) the word is father to the deed.

Also because thoughts, words, actions, and laws are not the same thing. A thing may not be evil in itself -- for example, driving on the right -- and yet be illegal, and have catastrophic consequences in countries where you drive on the left. Conversely, a thing may be evil -- for example, deliberately inflicting emotional torment on small children for your own amusement -- without having immediate catastrophic consequences.

Evil deeds don't come out of nowhere. They're preceded by thoughts and words and habits. Evil deeds performed en masse are preceded by complicity.

Ann Coulter is careless, cruel, arrogant, irresponsible, destructive, and a habitual bearer of false witness. As a journalist she violates the public's trust that she will report something reasonably close to the truth, and misuses that trust to report things she knows are not true.

The example she sets is at least as harmful. She applauds bad behavior in others, and encourages the mistreatment of those who have done no wrong. Her prominent position and constant media exposure gives permission and encouragement to the worst of us, and disheartens the best.

So yes, what she does is evil. If she weren't a leggy blonde, people would be ashamed to even listen to her. They ought to be anyway.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2003, 04:53 PM:

Jerry, not all evil is identical, any more than all action against evil is identical. I think we'd all agree that a serial child-killer-and-molster is evil, but we probably wouldn't advocate going after him with tanks and missiles and infantry and Marines, like we just did to Saddam Hussein.

Violent evil deserves (if necessary) just violence in opposition. Evil words are best fought with wise and good words.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2003, 04:55 PM:

"If Coulter is evil, why are you not calling for her arrest? Surely evil deserves stern punishment. How can you be willing to let Coulter walk the streets?"

Why am I not calling for her arrest? Because of the very sound conservative principle that it's a mistake to attempt to make what's evil and what's illegal into perfectly coterminous sets. Indeed, if there's a single big idea at the heart of post-Enlightenment conservatism, it's that utopian attempts to correlate social organization to absolute morality always end in some version of the Terror.

Not that Ann Coulter is in fact any kind of conservative. But then, neither are a lot of prominent so-called "conservatives."

Scott B ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2003, 05:21 PM:

Quick interjection-

Ann Coulter is pals with Miguel Estrada and other members of the Federalist Society. These are not lightweight blowhard Limbaugh listeners, these are men (and a few women) who seek to occupy the most powerful offices in the land. Her inflammatory rhetoric helps provide cover for neo-conservative activism by groups like the Federalist Society. I suppose that may not be "influence" but it definitely serves the far right's agenda.